“But … it wasn’t my fault!”

“To DEFLECT is human, to REFLECT is accountability.”


Got spam? I sure do. Sadly, I’ve learned to tolerate it much of it, hoping it goes straight into my “trash” folder. But yesterday, I got a “spammy” email that looked and felt somewhat legit. From a firm selling phone services, the sender was Matthew and it started like this:


Hope this message finds you well. We spoke recently about your business phone system, and I wanted to share …

Whoa!!! Stop the presses!!! I have NEVER spoken to this guy or anyone else from RingCentral.

But, instead of deleting it, I looked it over. Seeing a professional signature containing Matthew’s full name and a Denver, Colorado phone number, I sensed this actually had a real human behind it.

And was I ever right … about the human part!

My response:

Matthew, to prospect is one thing—I’ve done it for almost 30 years—but to outright lie is another. You know that we have never talked. Please take me off this list.

Well, when he answered me immediately, not only did I know there was a real person behind the “spam,” I knew how human he is!

His reply:

These emails are sent out on my behalf from my Marketing Department. I have no control over the content.

So, I politely sent him the Amazon link to the QBQ! book on PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY. I just couldn’t resist. The devil made me do it. 🙂

Here’s the question:

When I am confronted with truth, a problem, or a ball that has been dropped where I was involved, do I DEFLECT or REFLECT?

To DEFLECT is human, to REFLECT is accountability.

The difference is in the immediate reaction. Here:

Deflect:  But … it wasn’t my fault!

Reflect:  Hmm, what part did I have in this and how could I have handled it differently?

Back in the 1990s, when I first created “Personal Accountability and the QBQ!” one of my early keynotes was at Redline HealthCare, a distributor of medical products. After my presentation, the CEO, Rob Carr, said, “John, I suppose you don’t get many standing ovations, do you?”

“Why would you say that, Rob?” I asked apprehensively.

His reply was insightful.

“Because your QBQ tool—and its message of personal accountability—makes me think so darn hard.”

Accountable people, though, do that—they think darn hard. They also immediately seek to REFLECT, even when it hurts.

And the good news is, Ben Franklin said … “If it hurts, it instructs!”


The last time anything went wrong in your life, did you immediately DEFLECT or REFLECT? If you DEFLECTED, what was the cost and how would you handle it now? 

If you REFLECTED, what were the benefits of doing so?

Feel free to be specific, we’d love to hear. Comment away!

If you liked this message, you’d like this one, too: 5 Lessons Learned When I Stopped Making Excuses

If you are not a subscriber to our QBQ! QuickNote emails, sign up here.

9 Responses

  1. I try very hard to be accountable all the time but especially when there is a possibility that someone else might suffer it I’m not. I was recently training a young man to take over one of my tasks and our training had stalled. He asked me what he should tell our VP if the VP asked why the task wasn’t finished. I said to tell him it was my fault. He seemed surprised that I would take the blame but I knew it was absolutely my responsibility and I wasn’t about to hang him out to dry.

  2. John, this really resonated with me from a conversation I had just yesterday. I was involved in a piece of work that did not run smoothly. I could see clearly how I could have done some things differently. I took the time to have a conversation with another key stakeholder and asked them: “what could I have done differently for us to have got to a better outcome? What should I do differently next time?” Well, wow! I got the most amazing feedback based on 2 things: “Build on” and “Think about” – the “build on” items are the things that went well and the “Think about” helped crystallise my thinking on what to change next time. I was blown away by the amount of actionable feedback I got just from asking those 2 simple questions. Sure, you have to be prepared to hear the answers but if you are, you build your skills and enhance your reputation.

  3. Funny how when we deflect and make excuses, it sounds soooo lame! We think we have done a good job of justifying our failure to keep our word but we just come out sounding like some hapless victim. Much more powerful when you just say I a responsible and here is what I learned from the experience. And my commitment moving forward is X.

  4. Funny you should ask… a couple of days ago at work things had gone well all morning, but lunch had not, as they say, agreed with me and the afternoon went way down hill. Now… I could have used not feeling well as my excuse, but instead I just went through each item that had gone wrong with the boss and concisely explained each one… I’m fairly new at the job, and you could literally see his respect for me shoot up. I was however very grateful when he let me go home a few minutes early!!

  5. Oh boy. I got one of those emails before – I just hit delete, pretty much the same way I treat the only physical mail I receive anymore. Someone wants to buy my car again, and they send a form letter that looks like a printed email from their manager saying “We must have his car – do what ever it takes,” even including a blue ink message printed to look like a handwritten note, about what a great deal it is.

    Creative, to be sure.

    I had a QBQ bootcamp this week, taking the dreaded “Multiple-Family-with-kids” group vacation to Orlando. 4 couples, 4 toddlers.

    Different schedules.
    Lack of sleep.
    Inconsistant food options and quality
    4 toddlers.
    and me – a cranky, tired, hungry, introvert that just wanted some R&R.

    BUT with the QBQ in mind, I managed through 90% of the weekend, with only a few minor deflections (but plenty of temptation!)

  6. John,
    Ouch this one hurt, but well timed. I decided to send a favorite aunt a b-day card and have my 3 kids sign it.
    I announced it to the family, laid the card out on the table and the next morning it was missing. No one knew where it went. I looked around for it and decided it was lost. I expressed my frustration to everyone who would listen and even said, “If you guys would have signed it right away, it would not have been misplaced.” While I’m saying this in the back of my head I’m giving myself a QBQ talk.
    Garrett – 1. You could have made sure everyone signed it by speaking specifically to each child so that they understood and then giving better direction as to what to do with the card once completed. 2. It was my card and it was my responsibility to keep track of it. 3. Getting frustrated and angry doesn’t solve anything it only communicates to my kids that is an appropriate response.
    QBQ eventually won the day but only after having a DR Jekyll / Mr Hyde moment.
    The biggest downfall of deflecting is when we deflect we lose the opportunity to learn and make the situation better/right.
    Thanks John

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *